Coffee and a mission
From where I’m sitting I can see the old fort on the other side of the square, overlooking the lagoon. Its cannons are still. They keep on aiming at an enemy that can´t be told. Their iron wants to spit fire and shells, to feel its ill-fated pleasure. Yet, in all proudness, they have become nothing more than a pack of street dogs; they could bark their breath out, but would never bite anymore. Their balls of rust cannot sink pirate ships, nor keep them from coming ashore. They all finally did.
Its early. The square is quiet. It’s been raining. I feel the wooden bench under me and the long table in front. They take me back to my childhood school in Chile. A British school it was. Its dining room with wooden benches and very long tables, the walls covered by wooden frames that held lists with names of those ex-alumni fallen in the Second World War. An air solemn, stiff, that could not be breath well. Days of wearing veteran’s red poppy flowers on our uniform jackets, come to mind. The flowers of a remembrance that was not mine, as the Assembly and us singing to a Queen for whom I was not a subject of, was not either. I looked up on shelves full of houses’ trophies for 1930’s competitions on, the sort I would never get just because I took them to be beyond my reach, as the high ceilings that reverberated our children voices, were. I was of the Cochrane House, a red. I carried the weight of red on my shoulders for so long.
The In Chi Ich coffee shop by the square, is hidden in the roofed terraces around it, called portales. Any decent town square has to have portales. In them one will always find good coffee and local food. Portales. As in the spaces or portals between columns.
I sip hot coffee. It tastes as heaven. A part of me remains asleep. Rebeca is a very thin woman in her forties, of pale skin and popping eyes, she’s brought two cups of this dark brew to us. She is from Guanajato – a state in the Bajío central Mexico fertile region – and knows Nano. Everyone does. “Guanajato land of opportunities” she says, leaning on the wall. The playwright is hers as much as her mother and her daughter’s. They took it on stage a few months ago. It was adapted to Bacalar as “Quintana Roo, land of opportunities”- she said. I thought of satire or black humour at it best. Pirates were at large. They had of opportunities, plenty.
Nano types in his laptop on the other side of the table. He is following up on the funding efforts for his socially committed project and letting friends and organisations know about his dream and his accomplishments so far. He uses Clown and other breathing and teaching techniques learned in Canada, to help kids find their voices and live through conflict. He has been coming for over a year to the Peninsula that saw him born again. It’s been two Peace Camps already in the Maya community of Yaxunah. There are so many “conflict areas” in Mexico, that is why he has this drive to him as if there is no time left. Nano cared and took action. He made it happen.
Three weeks ago, Nano had offered me ride to Mexico city in his van. Two weeks ago I was captivated by his social commitment and was filming and clowning in a short with him, acting to bring people awareness into the effort. A week ago I was taking a Clown workshop. Today I was getting the promised lift to Mexico city, but I had also found a calling.
I was to follow them all the way to Cheran, Michoacan, a mountain community behind the Autodefensas lines, hit by the drug wars that keep unfolding in Mexico at the expense of the void left by a country’s failed State. One that cares for its citizens. As a result, the people of Cheran threw county police out, formed a citizen ruling board and armed its men to protect their families and do away with cartel and police extortion. Cheran is a model in a time without answers. It is in the spotlight of bringing our consciousness together.
I uttered a simply phrase to my only audience, Nano. It was spoken from my heart. My expression believed the emotion: I cared. I said: “I want to go with you to Cheran”. Nano smiled and welcomed my decision. He already knew this was inevitable.
I am to write and photograph the story of those children and do so with Nano’s friend, Sebastian who has been filming video already at Yaxunah. I believe the story has to be told and be known by others to care.
Nano’s La Bufon S.O.S.ial Clown group is but a way to act. At Yaxunah, a Maya community, his team has left a lasting impression. The sort that gives children tools to stop and listen, to observe their reactions, learn how to use their power and weave with others, to be able to laugh at themselves and use laughter to heal and learn to love and accept the kid they are. To breathe out the peace they lack outside. To make a pause for peace through Art. To declare a cease fire where they can continue being kids.
Nano tells me about the Children’s Peace Theatre in Canada. I think of Paulo Freire’s Theology of Liberation and works such as Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, proven methods in Latin America.
All of this just works. I know it does. It’s Love. It’s caring.
Guillermo and the Aliens
Nano left to get the van checked. I wrote fast paced. The generous dose of chile serrano in my guacamole and nachos order helped. Things flowed. They did, until everything came to a stop. It was not a lack of inspiration nor chilli. His name was Guillermo. Rebeca greeted him at a distance. He is a local.
A boyish face with sparkling eyes and the teeth of a pirate, coupled to a thin but energetic body in its somewhat beaten late sixties, he is the sort of fellow that becomes the centre of attraction where he goes. His loudness is the tool of trade. Confidence obtained by surviving to himself was the other one. I try not to fall into the distraction. The few other customers that had short conversations with him pay their checks. After all, why would he be entitled to making personal questions the nature and an inspector would, and even get answers. Yet he does. Those having coffee are suddenly suspects brought in for questioning. I would opt for leaving as they did, but have to wait for Nano.
I learned he was a painter and a narcissist. I also learned he was a town relic and that his eccentricity is accepted. Another local passing by tells him to behave, as in not fending off tourists. He laughs. He has never followed the rules of course, except his own.
I’m intrigued. The remaining guacamole and nachos change tables with me. I greet him. We talk. Yes, he has been a subject of injustice. People are indebted to him. Aren’t we all? I say. He changes subject. I can read complicity in his eyes. He does too and cuts to the chase.
Without an introduction he tells me promptly, he has seen them. If Tulum had them and was such a special portal as I had come to learn by living there for over a year, Bacalar was their base of operation. They were stationed there. They as in Beings of Light, that is. Guillermo did not mention the word abduction, nor anything fancy like that. I was approached by them, – he said, aloud. – They told me they had been here for long and more were on their way. The Earth experiment was in for an adjustment.
I asked how. He went on. – Well, first CO2 will freeze. We will enter hibernation for just long enough as to get a mutation performed on us. When we wake up, we will be in the fourth dimension, where duality is no longer needed, consciousness is collective and Universal and we will nourish simply by dissolving leaves on our tongue.
Guillermo stops suddenly. He looks into my eyes and holds it. I run his last words by me again, my eyes fixed on his. He knows I have got it. I know this was why I followed my heart and sat by him.
See? – he says. Everything’s laid out here. This what’s happening. His right arm raised, his finger pointing to the ceiling above us.I look up and to my dismay I see orbiting planets, sun’s flares and an approaching Milky wave.
Yes. Guillermo is a painter and I was seeing one of his creations. It was waiting there to be revealed to me by him.
On nowness and being present
I embraced Guillermo’s underlying message. Change. Change is not only a constant. These days, change is seriously needed.
I stopped to think about it, as other people arrive and greet Guillermo. I realise I’ve heard his message before, from a Maya elderly – an abuelito as they are called-.
Something else ticked. Another turning point in my life, surfaces. I’m being made aware of the higher purpose of the lessons I’ve learnt, some in hardship, many in peace and Love – while living in Tulum the last year and nine months. To achieve change, it is us that need to do so, inside. We are the painters of our reality. I knew this coming to experience it fully in Tulum. We do create reality with our thoughts and our speech. If we do not, at least we make a choice happen. Our thoughts and our words express our decisions of which of the quantum possibilities are we to follow, out of what is already written for us as the reality at hand. Maktub!
In any event, it was by letting go of fears, minimising ego, doing away with attachment to be free of any interference that preclude us from being here and now. This is what allows our full being to be completely present and connected with what is. Thus we become connected again, and remain so, to the single Source of everything and the collective consciousness. It is also only then that we can become who we really are; that is the real struggle.
We – that is, all of us but the indigenous people that still observe ancient wisdom and tradition, were disengaged from the collective consciousness, while adopting modernity and ending up virtual nihilists. No wonder those preaching overrated technology pity on those that hold on to their ancient wisdom, that are still connected to the Source, and refer to them as being on the other side of the “Digital Barrier”, as in the now very lame heaven and hell dichotomy.
Then again, it is nowness. Everything there is, darkness or light, exists here and now, yet life itself remains an energy of sheer happiness. That is the reason we have be present. “It’s like the Lotus flower that grows on the swap but reaches up, perfumed and opening to the light”, – says Alejandro Jodorowsky in a recent interview (“Una Belleza Nueva” Conversaciones con Cristián Warnken. Quote at 57’ elapsed time) -.
She is not Victoria
Victoria is not her name. It is rather one of her songs’. I had come to learn this the day before. I’ve been calling her Victoria for a day and a half, since Nano singled her out in the streets as cruised in the van and gave this name to the mysterious rap singer behind dark glasses that preferred to go unnoticed in Bacalar.
I’m intrigued. I’ve just greeted her as Victoria with a hug and a kiss, together with her Andalucía friend Ana. She keeps her low profile. She does not mind my telling her a Victoria and welcomes the greeting. She is not tall nor short; she does not stand out from the crowd; she is more one of us; an anonymous member of the masses.
They seat at a table by mine to have breakfast at the coffee shop.
With her dark glasses removed I can see her inquisitive big round dark eyes and the gamut of expressions they are capable of, in tandem with her eyebrows. From piercing-armour sharp focus all the way to a laughing look, one that knows better, that has seen much and can’t be easily taken by surprise, that makes a perfect irony of the moment, witty, never uncanny, always transparent.
She speaks energetically with her body leaning forward, making gestures with her arms and hands. Her voice is very powerful, strong. Her strength comes from her plexus. She only stops to puff her cigarette. A thin, curly short hair, Ana listens to her attentively with sweet eyes and soft manners. Ana’s relaxed; she knows her friend pours intense energy every time she speaks of something. She knows that it is because whom I call Victoria, cares and has made her mission to denounce injustice singing her guts to her lyric words spewed at the speed of hip-hop rhythm.
It was her song Victoria that spoke of her to me. Victoria could be her, a kid born near Salta, Argentina, to an Argentinian father of a dissident voice with a guitar, of a humble home burnt by foreigners, made in the street, driven by anger, crying out loud to injustice and politicians selling out on their people.
I cried. I did because I had lived and felt the song’s soul. I cried because I have not done away with the feeling of hatred for those that marched on streets paved with the bodies of their own in my Latin American land. I cried because the wound is still open and because it not my wound but that of so many. I cried because I could not act then. I could not toss rocks at them. I could not shout red in their faces. I could not stand up to them. I cried, because she did it for me.
So I keep calling her Victoria.
Under the hood
Nano gets back. Now, changes. The van will make it, he says.
The mechanic looked at the suspension that had rattled all the way from Tulum. No problem, you’ll make it to Michoacan. He then prescribed a special oil and additives, as a doctor would of pills for an ailment other than that was the reason of the patient’s visit. Nano had bought these and started treatment.
Two days had gone past to find the mechanic and to find him sober. Last night he was busy. We inferred it, judging for the moaning that came out of his house, through the open door where we were standing, combined with loud Banda music and the smell of a strong spirit that ate souls.
He had an addiction to “la blanca” [cocaine] and having oral sex with prostitutes. I guessed this was congruent with his trade of looking under the hood. Beers came in as a bonus. He drank all day. He drank them for breakfast. Nano had just been offered one as he picked up the van.
Nano saved most of what we owed him, so he could have money later, indeed. He had paid him fifty dollars once and given him a ride with his dealer, where he spent it all in a single transaction.
The van will make it, yes, but just because its a tough beast.
¡Hasta la victoria siempre!
Nano has opened his Macbook. A curious Victoria watches La Bufon SOSial’s Yaxunah Peace camp short with undivided attention and in silence. A hip-hop video on Cheran’s resistance, where we are heading, follows. Ana watches by the side. Video stops. Victoria is moved. Her eyes tell, moist. All her might remains there. It is her very sensitive side that finally reveals to us, balancing out the picture of an extraordinary human.
She want’s to help the project. Nano fills her in. They are travelling to Chiapas. We are heading that way. The are coming with us.
Our van lives up to its name again “La Va-llena”.
Life on the brighter (blue) side
Buddhist monks had painted the inscription, written in Sanskrit, high on one of the few white walls of a very large and tall palapa, beautifully built by the Lagoon, on its south side. The monks that stayed there for a retreat in 2004 gave this as a present in exchange for Akilka’s hospitality. The atmosphere there was of a sailing club. Abundance was granted. It was Akalki, a high end health spa and cabañas place. Enrique told me it spoke of abundance and paraphrased it for me. He was the man in charge there and our host. A good friend of Nano. A witty middle aged, well taken care of, tanned, abundant hair in bright white and slim, educated man. He was also a well known reporter and a writer. Nano told him about my writing. Enrique was a reserved man and he greeted the purpose of my writing for Nano’s Peace Camp and its road trip, as he did of Nano’s project. They then retreated to talk in a complicity that had been started months earlier.
It had taken us five minutes to go across a small but dense jungle through a well maintained dirt road, past a security checkpoint, to get to reception, a smaller palapa, also overlooking the lagoon, with a turn around drive in that had a Maya glyph at its center and a little sun made out of blown glass in an iron harness, its glass shone to the intense bright rays of that what it mimicked well. Pamela worked reception. Her eyes mimicked all the blue tones of the lagoon, in a pale Argentinian skin with jet-black long hair. I had met her at Ki Bok café in Tulum before. She was of a strong character. She also was Nano’s clown partner and the liaison to Akalki.
On the way to Akalki, we had picked up Kate, her Swiss girlfriend and Neo. Kate spoke English as having lived long in USA. Neo was the recipient of Kate’s unconditional love and the soul she could trust. Neo was a white boxer with large black spots and very quiet. It was Kate & Neo, and the Swiss girlfriend really. I learned later Kate was a Czech. She was due for magnets therapy with a young smiling Fernando of green eyes with an intense long look.
I took Kate’s being a photographer as my alter ego being healed by magnets through her. It also felt like I was there to make the photos Kate was not going to be able to do. A sort of colleagues solidarity. A moral obligation. The moment was as important as Neo staying behind in the van. Kate and her friend disappeared behind Fernando, as Enrique and nano chatted. I was shown to the command post.
A spiral staircase done in tropical wood lead me exactly above Nano and Enrique, to a tapanco – a space like an attic but with a view to the ample dinning room beneath. There was no one. I approached the fine table and chairs at the space centre ready to lay down my stuff and write in the quiet. I had to manoeuvre myself around a coffee table with a magnificent chess board with exquisitely pieces carved in wood. This was indeed a command room. Strategy happened there. The image of the Merida Plan and the regions geopolitics surfaced just for me to take a glimpse of them in irony .
A good old dark red rug with nice patterns laid on the floor beneath the working table. I had left my kilim behind as a present to a neighbour at the camping; I was pretty fond of that kilim in particular. It was one more attachment to do away with though. It belonged to my past. Besides the van was overloaded and Norah, my neighbour was really a restless spider, weaving threads around her tent, to place canvases for shade and rain, as she redesigned the shape of her living space almost every day. Her tenacity deserved my kilim. I was no longer to be the Sheik of Playa Roca Camping. Geopolitically speaking, I did not want to end up exiled as the Sha of Iran; rather remain a nomad.
I wrote for a couple of hours. No distractions but murmur below and lagoon water splashing softly on the dock by the restaurant. I noticed the green leds blinking of a computer server and modem on a corner.
An energetic young woman came up and walked directly to the server. She was looking to see if her laptop had charged. There were some outlets by the server. Electricity is a luxury in these areas. She nodded at me. I said hello. She went down the spiral.
A while later Nano came by and got me down to greet Arturo. Kate’s Swiss girlfriend was by him, so were the others, in a half circle around him, all againt a bar. Arturo was the senior guy. Owner and partner. A sharp look on relaxed brand clothing with the eyes of a shark but a relaxed grimace on his face. The usual questions to place someone, to which I replied promptly. This was his territory, his lagoon feeding station. Arturo got a call and left to take it by a jungle walkway. I was also introduced to Fernanda and another girl friend of hers from New York.
Carrying fruit with us in the van was a healthy and inexpensive way to nourish on the road. I had bought a heavy watermelon slice from Mennonites in Bacalar at the portales earlier. Leaving it to Neo in the van for hours was certainly not a good idea. I arrived to this upscale place with my backpack, sandals not shaved and a watermelon under my arm. Maybe that was the reason I was shown to command post. It was time to share though. It was Nano that felt at home in the kitchen space behind the bar and sliced it for all of us. Chili powder and lime were brought by a waiter. Everyone enjoyed the watermelon; I enjoyed the expression of the Kate’s Swiss friend and the celebration of abundance that for me meant sharing it there. Fernando and a glowing Kate in a big smile appeared. Therapy had finished.
Enrique capped the moment with Sikil P’ak – like a tapenade, black in colour, creamy in texture, made out of many ingredients and the powder of ground pepita (pumpkin) seeds, which we had with Nachos. The Swiss was astonished.
The day was ending. Light got whiter and revealed to me the photo Neo was to have made. Fernanda in a first plane, a young buddha in embossed in a fine work of art in bronce foil, hang behind her on the wall, as a backdrop. Their profiles similar. I took Kate’s shot with my favourite 105mm Nikkor AF old lens fully opened to it f2, and managed to get her eyes closed, as Buddha’s
On the way out I thanked Arturo and Enrique for their hospitality. Nano let me know later that I could write and spend a couple of days there when I returned to Bacalar. I was happy to be welcomed as a writer.
We left the Czech-Swiss crowd at their camp and left. Nano’s last clown night of the season was due that night at el Galeón Pirata Bar with variété (pirate galleon ship).
We had to rest.
Samantha, the listener
She is twenty seven years old with the face of twelve. A kid with big round eyes and short dark hair, a sweet young woman and a very old soul that can reach out to the heart of people as I have never seen before; Samantha is The People. They get her as in, they want to adopt her. She believes in people and sends out Love. It is more than just her granted trust to them. She is playful, sensitive, can even sound naive or too trusting, but that is the reason she can make them laugh, cry or become best fiends sharing deep feelings in minutes. A combination of everyone’s daughter and a best friend, Samantha is indeed touched (God heard) and a really good listener, as her name means in Aramaic.
Samantha has been in Maya lands for a while. Tulum has been her home. She proudly is from Cordoba, Argentina, but belongs here as much as the Maya; as them in their family name and lineage’s, Samantha does what her name says, very well.
Nano got an SMS as we drove back from Akilka. It was Samantha’s. She had arrived that afternoon in town, with her friend Vicky.
It had been Samantha that believed in Nano’s project and happened to be there for him as Nano needed a shelter, tired of fending off useless policemen telling him off the beaches or his van, where he slept. Police did not do much more than that here; everything else was too dangerous and not worth the salary.
Samantha was genuinely interested in Nano’s reaching the people she loved, specially those in need. Her social worker studies in Argentina and her social commitment stood up, yes, but it was her passion that echoed in Nano’s doings. She had made the decision to jump into this unstoppable train called Nano, leave Tulum and it beaches and travel with the Clown bunch as I was doing, to Cheran.
She had a knack for management and was good at book keeping. Samantha had become our road manager, but it was centre, her laughter and sense of humour and an unbeatable drive to move on, she had brought to us. That, and the magic of hot mate tea that she fed to us constantly, of course.
We picked them up and drove to La Casa del Escritor to rest.
Just One Night
This is the title to one of the best albums Eric Clapton recorded live in the Budokan Theatre in Tokio in December 1979. It was just a one night performance and it made gold. The best version of J.J.Cales’s “Cocaine” is in that album. I love it, but I’m more a “Wonderful Tonight” person.
The curtain was about to open in the small improvised theatre space at the end of the bar; Nano and Poncho were about to perform their one night. The bar was crowded, beers everywhere, the smell of spent weed floating in the air coming from the street and a merry bunch of kids and others, young at heart, expecting.
I was the guy in the camera and the lights boy, although it was more of an electricians job to plug them on Adrian’s signal. Adrian, a funny laid back character, is Galeón’s DJ, stage hand (his favourite role) and rigger. He is also in charge of the bar. He does everything. Even Bertha’s high pitched, fat woman’s voice, a variété, within a variété -, a taste of Galeón.
It is Bertha that summons everyone to take their seats. Mine is on the floor, as many. It’s the Third Call and I connect the five-incandescent bulbs lightbox, some of them covered in red plastic wrapping. Eyes on the curtain. Nothing happens.
Groaning and grunting come from behind the curtain, which moves slightly. Somebody is pushing or pulling on something. Silence. Nothing, again. Nano’s head appears with a hand asking for the audience patience. A couple of minutes later, he enters stage a hand with a whip (actually a van’s stowage belt), followed by Poncho “the beast”. What follows you have to see. What I got out of it, besides laughter and simple, kind and naive amusement, is that I finally understood the bond that Nano and Poncho had. The one that could explain to this novice of me in that Love, a dog copilot and its always minding and loving partner, and not master. I understood it because I felt it with my heart.
By the show’s end the stage roared. Everyone was there, even tourists that I had seen at the coffee shop early morning. Arturo and Enrique were there as well. All in all, that part of Bacalar’s variété watching night life, did not add up to more than fifty. Yet they all paid undivided attention to Nano’s message as he addressed them from behind the lights to let them know about La Bufón SOSial’s road trip to Cheran, Michocan and about the Peace Camp achievements.
Samantha passed a hat around. Everybody shed coins and bills. They cared.
Nano and the bunch stayed to see the galleon sail away. I walked home with Vicky. The night sky over the lagoon was split with a white diagonal streak miles long, that made a curious angle with a wooden dock ending in a white Greek portal. Electric lighting along it made the scene surreal. I took a snapshot.
Minutes after I closed my room shutters and my own. I had such a lot of images in me to enjoy.
La Bouffon S.O.S.ial is an international artistic group of trained theatre professionals, inspired by the Bouffon-clown-mask teachings of Adam Lazarus, Philippe Gaulier, Francine Côté, James Kaylon, Roch Jutras, and Marcelo Magni. It aims to create artistic projects based on social, cultural and ecological issues, that bring citizen awareness onto social issues that need to be addressed.
Re-turning: A road trip – Day 3 by Juan Ayza Merino is licensed under a Creative Commons Reconocimiento-NoComercial-SinObraDerivada 4.0 Internacional License.